Reel Reviews | News of the World

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

A news reader agrees to deliver a girl, taken by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle, against her will in the Tom Hanks movie, News of the World.

Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) is a Civil War veteran. No longer in service, he travels from town to town in the West reading the news and delivering hopeful stories to the people. One day he comes across an abandoned young girl who was being taken to her aunt and uncle after her family was killed in an attack. Despite her protests, Kidd decides to take the girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel) to her family. Their journey promises to be long and perilous. Can Captain Kidd fulfill his new mission and find the family Johanna deserves?

News of the World is written by Paul Greenglass (Jason Bourne, United 93) and Luke Davies based upon the book by Paulette Jiles. Greenglass also directs this western action film which stars Hanks and Zengel.

Helena Zengel’s performance as Johanna is a wild and recklessly delightful complement to Hanks’ stern and sober Kidd who only seems to open fully when he is reading the news. Zengel won a German Film Award last year for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in the movie System Crasher. The twelve-year-old actress commands the screen every time that she appears with a fire and intensity reminiscent of a young Jodie Foster. Greenglass was worried about finding a child star who could embody the role of Johanna but when he saw Zengel’s audition, he knew immediately that there was no one else.

Paul Greenglass is known for being a modern action movie director and has made a number of films in the Bourne franchise and even directed Hanks before in Captain Phillips but this is his first foray into the modern western. News of the World is a modern Western flick that displays the grandeur of the land of the Old West but instead of being a story about cowboys and Indians or gunslingers and lawmen, this story is much more nuanced and story driven much like Eastwood’s Unforgiven. But despite that unfamiliar territory, Greenglass captures and delivers a compelling tale of the old West in a way that recalls the work of veteran Western directors. Having said all that, News is a more pensive and thoughtful journey with just a couple of action scenes along the way.

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, thematic material, and some language, News of the World is a smart and stylish Western that displays the impressive talents and abilities of relative newcomer Zengel and veteran director Greenglass. With its story of hope, triumph, and love, News of the World is a great way to start a new year.

Grade: B+

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